How to Decorate Series: Finding Your Decorating Style

Several years ago, I hosted a “How to Decorate” series on my blog and had 20+ talented bloggers share their top decorating secrets. This week we are doing it again! Twenty-five talented bloggers will be sharing with you their top tips and tricks on how to decorate your home. I hope you’ll tune in each day! I am kicking off the series with tips on how to find your decorating style.

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How to Find Your Decorating Style

So what are you? Are you contemporary? Traditional? Transitional? French Country? Rustic? Industrial? Mid-century modern? Coastal? Cottage? Eclectic? Overwhelmed and confused? If you google “how to find your decorating style” a myriad of quizzes will pop up promising to help you pinpoint your unique style. I know myself very well at this point and can tell you my style…and yet I received a slightly different decorating style conclusion on all of these quizzes. Some told me I was cottage, others said I was traditional, one said I was transitional, and another determined I was coastal. Quizzes that ask your favorite lipstick color, favorite dog, ideal drink, and ideal vacation, aren’t necessarily going to get to the root of your decor style! And the truth of the matter is that most of us are a healthy mix of several of the above categories. And the even BIGGER truth is that unless we live alone we are typically decorating with several personalities and styles in mind!

So let’s approach the question differently. Let’s first define what some of these styles look like today, and then explore ways to pinpoint how your unique (family’s) style fits into the mix. Before I start defining these, I should add a disclaimer that all of these definitions are up for debate. I’m going to do my best to define the styles as I see them, but know that you are free to disagree with me!  There are just too many styles to cover in one post, but I will highlight some of the most popular ones which should hopefully give you a sense of where you might fit in.

1. Contemporary

Contemporary style is often interchanged with “modern” which isn’t accurate. Contemporary decorating is about the “here and now”. It can best be characterized by: less is more, clean lines, emphasis on lines and form, neutral and tonal colors paired with bold pops of color, open spaces, and natural lighting. Here are some examples below that encapsulate the contemporary style.

contemporary living room

via HGTV

contemporary gray living room

via Benjamin Moore

contemporary kitchen

via Home Portfolio

2. Traditional

Traditional decorating is about comfort, coziness, rounded sofa arms, elegance, symmetrical arrangements, rich moldings and attention to woodwork. Classic traditional conjures up images rooted in old-English style—dripping in dark woods, heavy draperies, hunter green, and persian rugs. NEW traditional however is different. New traditional is classic and comfortable, but allows for some fun and youthfulness to be interjected.

traditional living room example

via Ashley Whitaker Design

New Traditional living room

 via Baers

traditional bedroom example

via HGTV

3. Transitional

If contemporary and traditional got married and had a baby, that baby would be named transitional! Seems sort of like it should be named Trademporary or Contempditional, but those are harder to pronounce and might elicit teasing in the schoolyard. Transitional decorating finds the sweet spot between the comfort and warmth of traditional style and the clean lines and metallic goodness of contemporary style. This look usually has contemporary staple pieces of furniture paired with warm woods and sophisticated metallics.

transitional living room example

via Houzz

contemporary kitchen

via HGTV

transitional bedroom

via Scott Laslie

4. Cottage

Cottage style decor is light, airy, personal and casual. Under this decor style umbrella you could include: rustic, farmhouse, coastal, country, french country, shabby chic and even industrial decor. Each of these styles has their own unique look, of course, but they share many commonalities. Cottage decor incorporates modest moldings such as plank walls, well-worn or reused vintage pieces, second hand treasures, and painted furniture. It is a look that is easy to achieve on a tight budget.

cottage dining

via House of Turquoise 

cottage kitchen

via BHG

cottage living room

via Southern Living

5. Eclectic

Eclectic decorating refers to mixing together styles from several different time periods and trends. It is a hodge podge of decorating styles and cannot be pinpointed one way or another. Sometimes bohemian and Moroccan styles are lumped under the eclectic decor umbrella–probably because eclectic rooms often have collectibles from travels as part of the mix. Eclectic decor can look amazing or disastrous depending on how it is executed. Here are a few examples of eclectic decorating done right.

example of eclectic decorating done right

via Apartment Therapy

eclectic dining room

via Corynne Pless

eclectic living room

via HGTV

How to Find What Style Best Suits You

Did you find yourself gravitating to one set of pictures over the other? I appreciate elements from ALL of the pictures, but I wouldn’t choose to live in all of the rooms.

1. Gather photo inspiration by asking yourself ,”Would we feel comfortable living in this space?” 

Create pinboards on Pinterest and save magazine tears that speak to you. However, don’t just pin things you like. As you look at each image, ask yourself whether or not you and your family would feel comfortable actually living in that space? This will get to the heart of your style much more quickly than just pinning what you like. I have a pinboard called “My Style” for this very purpose.
Follow Beth’s board My Style on Pinterest.

2. Pay attention to which shelter magazines and catalogs you most enjoy.

Do you love your House Beautiful and Domino magazines more than your Country Living and Southern Living? Maybe Romantic Home and Cottage & Bungalows are your favorites? Or perhaps you look forward to the Pottery Barn & Ballard Designs catalogs arriving more than anything else? Pay attention to what excites you and you will find answers to your personal style questions!

2. Assess what you already own. 

Take a look around your rooms and determine what items you adore and what items you would change if you were able. Gathering clues from the things you cherish most will help you define your style. Do you have a well-loved deep-seated sofa that serves your family perfectly–even if it’s not in a fabric you adore? Do you love the clean lines of your grandma’s hand-me-down mid-mod coffee table? Do you have a new shiny lamp from Target that makes your heart sing? Find what you love in your home and it will spell out your style for you!

Don’t be afraid to make what you own work for your style! I define my style as transitional cottage, and I loved this dresser we inherited from my boy’s great grandparents. This piece of furniture has a rich family legacy, and I wanted to keep it within the family. To update it’s look for my boys’ room, I gave it a two-toned paint job and changed out the hardware to brass card catalog pulls. The piece is still traditional but fits my “transitional cottage” look much better than before.

dresser before after

3. Embrace what you love and forget about all those labels.

I know it’s weird to have my final tip on how to find your decorating style basically telling you not to worry about finding your style! While it is important to know what you like, finding the exact words that box-in and neatly describe your style is much less important. Your ultimate goal here is to create a beautiful safe haven where you and your family feel nurtured and cared for. Defining what you like and what feels most like home will help you towards achieving this goal. Worrying too much over the exact words which describe your style will most likely stress you out! Stress is not the goal here, so to heck with the categories. Just focus on what fits and let go of finding the perfect words.

Home Stories A to Z home

You can see in the collage above of my home that all of the rooms feel like they go together. This brings peace and unity to the look of my home and hopefully to my family! Have you ever walked into a home where the rooms felt confused and jumbled, like the owners’ just couldn’t make up their minds as to who they wanted to be? These homes often feel tense–as if the house is disunited and undergoing an identity crisis. When you get to the heart of knowing which decorating style feels right for you and yours, you are better able to create a peaceful and cohesive home. And ultimately you are able to create the home and family life of your dreams!

How to find your decorating style

Looking for more tips on How to Decorate? Then you are going to LOVE this week! Next stop on your hop is Courtney from A Thoughtful Place! Enjoy!

How to Decorate Series

Day 1:
1. Beth, Home Stories A to Z: How to Find Your Decorating Style
2. Courtney, A Thoughtful Place: 5 Gallery Wall Styles
3. Stacy, Not Just A Housewife: How to Decorate with Plants
4. Myquillyn, Nesting Place: Turning a House into a Home on a Thrift Store Budget
5. Donna, Funky Junk Interiors: How to Turn Worthless Junk into Home Decorating Must Haves
Day 2:
1. Melissa, The Inspired Room: The Secret Ingredient Every Room Needs
2. Jessica, Four Generations One Roof: How to Decorate with Container Plants
3. Traci, Beneath my Heart: How to Style a Coffee Table
4. Cyndy, The Creativity Exchange: Tricks for How to Zone in on the Perfect Paint Color
5. Laura, Finding Home: 5 Ways to Personalize Your Home

Day 4:
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  1. says

    That’s a really good and easy to understand breakdown of some decor styles Beth! I’m excited to participate this week in the series and look forward to reading everyone’s advice, tips, and tricks! 😉

    • Beth says

      Thanks Kim! Decorating is made so much easier when you can pinpoint what you love. It sets the stage for the entire home. You are fab at doing this! Looking forward to your post.

  2. says

    This is so great Beth! I love how you have really broken this down and I’m pretty much a transitional foundation with a mix of everything else. I love the idea creating a style pinboard to help pinpoint and zone in on style and comfort. So many times I look back over my pins and I really start to see patterns of this that I never knew I loved!

    Thanks Beth and thank you for hosting this week!

  3. Jessica says

    This is such a simple and wonderful breakdown of styles! I love coastal, farmhouse, and what I thought was a separate category of cottage style. Finding them all under the same umbrella makes so much sense to me! They are similar and yet have different vibes. I was so confused as to which I liked best, and now I see why!

    I think another important thing to think about when starting to decorate your home is what your home feels like. I love industrial decor, but my house lends much more to feeling like a farmhouse (I can hear cows from my front yard) than anything else. It sounds weird, but I think each house has an idea of what it wants to be, and if you follow that, that will be most comfortable for your family than fighting the house.

    • Beth says

      Industrial farmhouse works well together :). I agree with you that it is so much easier to decorate if you try to work with your home’s architecture and setting rather than fighting it. Great tip!

  4. says

    Nicely done, Beth! I truly didn’t know the definition to most of those styles. I still have trouble labelling my own. Can you come up with a term for it so I don’t have to mash 20 words together for folks that ask! haha

    Thanks for having me on as part of the tour today!

    • Teresa says

      I think you have a signature style called Funky Junk – you are a style pioneer! If you have to fit into one of the broad categories of style, then cottage would seem to be your umbrella – as you incorporate, rustic, industrial, shabby chic,and some farmhouse, with a country vibe. You definitely use vintage and reclaimed items – things most people would just throw away, but yet, you see their potential. I love how you have recycled and reused things to create a one of a kind style. Your style fascinates me and well, you probably are your own style category.

    • Beth says

      If someone asked me to describe your style, I would say “salvaged cottage”. Thanks again for joining me girl!

  5. says

    Great post and tips Beth!

    I’ve realized over time I’m definitely Eclectic with a leaning towards Transitional! It was fun to see all of the categories broken down and defined. Thank you for hosting this fun series!


  6. Suzanne says

    I’m so excited to have found your blog and this post! I was just lamenting the other day that I need help pin-pointing my style. We’re about to move to another home and I feel pulled in many directions with what I want to do with it. Your pictures of Cottage and Eclectic made it clear – Thanks! Looking forward to your remaining posts for this series.

  7. says

    Im almost 63 and wish you girls would of been around 40 years or so to help me figure this all out hopefully I have one more move in me to go traditional or close to it. Loved all the inspiration hope yous will consider some fall and holiday decorating ideas too. thank you for letting me peek into your wonderful houses.

    • Beth says

      Thanks so much Debbie! A holiday “how to decorate” series is a great idea. I’ll keep it in mind! And I don’t think you’re ever too old to make your house into a place you adore.

  8. says

    Great advice Beth – I think I am Traditional, with a little peppering of contemporary and cottage. I think! Thanks so much for hosting such a great series and for including me! Take care, Laura

  9. says

    This was such a great explanation of the different styles and I loved the examples you show too. Now I’m hooked and have to read through this series. Have a great weekend!

  10. says

    How do I get in on this How to Decorate series! Everyone’s style is soooo cute, and I’m obsessed with every picture here! I will be frantically checking everyone’s styles out on the series {obviously I’m a little behind on this!}. Such a great idea!

  11. Wendy says

    HI Beth ! I loved looking through all this ! Really enjoyable and useful !!
    Great job on the dressers from Walker & Freddie. May need a little counsel next time your down this way :)

  12. Lian says

    So glad I found this on pinterest. It was a great way to break the styles down into easy to understand terms and examples! Love your website!

  13. says

    I REALLY like your post and how clear it is. Would you mind if I translate it to Portuguese and publish it in my blog with the credits to you? My blog is about handcraft but I also like to post something about home decor.

    • Beth says

      Hi Vania, thanks so much for stopping by! So glad you found my post helpful! Unfortunately, I don’t allow others to “reblog” my posts at all and get quite angry when they do. My copyright policy only allows one picture with a clear link back to the original post. Google Chrome automatically translates posts into someone’s native language, so if you wanted to send your reader’s over to my blog that would be great. Thanks again for asking!

  14. says

    I found this series through the magic of Pinterest so now I will go back and read through the whole thing! THANK YOU for such a great explanation of styles! I never knew what my style was. I think, based on this post, that I would call it “transitional coastal cottage.” And it will help me immensely as I declutter and redo my house. I could just HUG you!! muah!

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